The Conversation Project: Why Funeral Service Missed the BoatSeptember 21st, 2012
“Everyone has a story, of a good death or a hard death, and we know the difference between those two stories is often whether they have the conversation.”
- Ellen Goodman, Co-founder of The Conversation
Have you heard about The Conversation Project yet?
Recently founded by Boston Globe columnist, Ellen Goodman and former Medicare chief, Dr. Don Berwick, its goal is to get people talking about their end-of-life wishes.
The public awareness campaign brings up some interesting points, such as this one: ”80% of people say that if seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctor about end-of-life care, while only 7% have an end-of-life conversation with their doctor.”
In my opinion, it’s ingenious, because “the conversation” is an extremely important one to have – yet no one wants to have it.
This effort is a little different from similar projects of its kind because it’s driven by social media and educational content. Heck, when I visited the website, I actually did write down some of my end-of-life wishes.
I was happy to see Goodman and Berwick collaborating to create a new-age campaign like this, but after reading about it, I sat at my desk puzzled, asking myself…where was the funeral profession on this one?
Ryan Thogmartin was right when he said “As members of the funeral profession why are we OK with the conversation about our area of expertise being controlled by someone else?”
He couldn’t have said it better.
I really think the funeral profession missed the boat on this one. Let me explain.
The Conversation Project presents three very prominent opportunities for this profession:
1. Improve the funeral profession’s reputation
I don’t know why or how this horrible misconception came to be, but unfortunately, the funeral profession is seen in a very bad light to the media, Hollywood and the general public. We’re seen as creepy, cold human beings who handle dead bodies, and that’s it. The Conversation Project would have been the perfect opportunity to shoot that misconception down.
The Harvard Business Review recently said: “The first place for these hard [end-of-life] conversations is not in medical offices with doctors, who are often uncomfortable with and untrained in initiating them, and it’s certainly not in emergency rooms or intensive care units. It’s at the kitchen table.”
The Conversation Project is there to facilitate those hard conversations. But as a profession who specializes in helping families make their loved one’s end-of-life meaningful, we should be a part of this.
2. Decrease direct cremations
Numbers don’t lie. 60% of people say making sure their family is not burdened by tough end-of-life decisions is “extremely important”. And when it comes down to actually planning the loved one’s funeral, no one wants to get stuck with those decisions. The easy way out? Direct cremation.
With the “Me” generation making up most of our business, there’s a trend forming where families are doing what’s easier for them, and not meaningful to the loved one. For them, it’s easier to choose the more affordable, or the less-complicated funeral arrangement.
I firmly believe that if end-of-life wishes were communicated, direct cremation wouldn’t exist. Let’s be honest – if asked, I’m sure very few people would want to be remembered by being sent directly to an urn, with no celebration of their life involved. What The Conversation Project does to solve this equation is it makes it easy for people to actually put their end-of-life wishes in writing.
The “Conversation Starter Kit,” is a downloadable PDF that shows users how to communicate their wishes in 4 easy steps. When they’re finished, they’re encouraged to keep that document and share it with their families. What a wonderful way to get people talking – educating them, and guiding them along the process.
3. Increase preneed leads
There are tools and websites that are dedicated to helping families preplan their funeral. But is preplanning a funeral really where the conversation should start? I don’t think it is.
The Conversation Project takes the daunting part out of planning for the future. While it may not drive people to flood your funeral home asking you whether you take cash or credit, The Conversation Project demonstrates the importance of planning ahead.
The families of today want to know their death will be meaningful, and as trained professionals, we can help make sure that happens.
So what’s the solution?
There isn’t just one answer to this question, there’s many. The most important lesson we can learn from The Conversation Project is that we need to get involved with organizations in the community who could benefit from our expertise.
We know for certain that whatever it is we’re doing now… isn’t working. Could our biggest opportunity lie in finding ways to get involved with families before the death occurs (think senior care, hospice, etc.)? I’ll leave the answer up to you…
What do you think? How can the funeral profession get involved with other organizations in the community? Is that the right solution? Share your thoughts!